23 November 2006

Les Troyens

Five hours of melodrama, glamorous frocks and shrieking in public; no, I wasn’t back at the gay bars in the Marais, and it wasn’t a Dynasty special. I attended the derniere performance of Les Troyens at Opera Bastille.

To my right sat a gentleman who had queued along with me for an hour to buy a discounted ticket. When the curtain rose, he began to fidget. I had never imagined that there were so many ways to fidget. After staring at me blatantly for quite some time, he then stared at the people further along on the row, then stared at the people some rows in front. In due course, he unfastened his tie and fastened it again, moved about in his seat, tapped his feet, checked his programme and fell asleep… and that was just in the first part. Why was he there? He was alone; no opera-loving partner was forcing him to remain in his seat. If he was related to one of the cast, he wouldn’t have been queuing for a cheap ticket. Is there a state-sponsored scheme that releases geriatrics for a day provided that they go to a cultural event, or allows convicted criminals to serve a year of their sentence by sitting through an entire opera?

I didn’t expect him to return for more, but there he was after the interval. And guess what- there were still more ways to fidget! Having adjusted his neck-tie, he examined the back of it carefully, and afterwards he fixed his hair and checked his fingernails, before grooming his incredibly hairy wrists for at least ten minutes. He fell asleep twice more and even started to snore, waking himself up before I was able to kick him. I am convinced that the highlight of his evening came when a woman in the row tried to quietly unwrap a boiled sweet, and he got to say ‘shush!’ loudly.

That aside, I had a wonderful night. No surprises to find that the theatre overflowed with card-carrying members of the gay league, several of whom I’d gladly fidget through a performance with. It was a fabulous performance, with two extravagant intervals, allowing some of the audience to flutter their eyelids over their thick programmes, while others dashed off to use the toilet facilities for an unreasonably long time.

The highlight of the opera came in Act Four when, after a perfect day together, Queen Dido spends her first night with Aeneas, the handsome Trojan. No stickiness on stage, of course, but a beautiful aria, leaving all of the rest to our imagination. She falls asleep in his strong arms, and Aeneas is drifting off to sleep himself when… in the distance, he hears a singing voice to remind him of promises he made. He must leave to found a great empire for his people, and so he steals out of bed, leaving his lover asleep. The curtain falls.

Bated breath in the auditorium as the next scene begins on the beach outside the palace, with Aeneas packing all of his things on a boat with his son. Queen Dido enters… not running with desperation in her eyes, oh no… striding majestically to stand looking down at him in cold fury. It was all sung in French, but all of the gay league knew exactly what she was getting off her chest.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Er… I didn’t want to take you. I had a great time, really. I didn’t leave my number-”

“Yes, I noticed that. Because?”

“Er… it’s that I heard my dead ancestors singing in the distance.”

“Hmmn,” says Queen Dido, like she’s heard this particular aria before.

“No, really, you see I made a promise to lead my people from our ravaged shores after our defeat at the hands of the Greeks. I must found a new empire that will change the world.”

“And you think that’s more important than leaving me a note?”

“Er… well….”

“And you’d rather go founding another empire- as if the world doesn’t have enough problems as it is- instead of spending the rest of your life with me?”

She stands there, looking fabulous… just to remind him what he enjoyed last night, and what he won’t ever get a chance to enjoy again if he doesn’t get out of that boat.

“Of course not, of course not! I’d much rather stay here, you know that… It’s just that… well, I promised, didn’t I? And there’s my little son, I must think of him. You understand, don’t you?”

“I think you’re the one who doesn’t understand, Aeneas. I suggest that you continue thinking about this… very carefully,” she says, giving him one of those looks and departing.

Before the gay league members have had a chance to uncross their legs, we’re back at the palace. Queen Dido paces her room, waiting for news. A messenger enters to inform her that the Trojans are sailing into the distance.

It is serious tantrum time!

After some running around the room and shrieking, she notices that Aeneas left his cloak on her bed, so we have the symbolic throwing-away-of-his clothes, followed by more shrieking and more aria. Fabulous! Then she pulls herself together, a little too quickly to be realistic in my opinion, but then it has been a rather long night. Queen Dido turns to her messenger, calmly and quietly, and tells him what to do. Prepare the army and send them after those boats. Kill them all. Do not let a single Trojan survive.

What about Aeneas, the messenger asks. Aeneas? Aeneas who? Make sure that you kill his precious son before you take care of him, then chop his body into teeny weenie pieces… and make sure you chop all the parts up, even the teeny weenie ones.

Needless to say, the gays are all crossing and uncrossing legs in excitement. I’m sitting there wondering how it’s possible that we’ve never heard of this Queen Dido before… I mean, the only Dido I’d ever heard of was that simpering, whimpering singer. Why, this woman is a bitch from hell: she is our ancestral mother, our ultimate queen, our Alexis… we are going to bring down the house when the final curtain falls.

But wait, she cries, turning to her messenger again.

We all slip onto the edges of our seat… what can that bitch have thought of doing next?

Cancel that order, she tells the messenger: go build a giant funeral pyre instead, onto which I shall throw myself and burn to death, lamenting my misfortune.

There’s a collective sigh of disappointment in the auditorium, while the man at my side continues to fidget, oblivious to the fact that Queen Dido’s chances of gay immortality are about to go up in smoke.

No comments: